I didn’t want to write this post. I didn’t want anyone to look at things they had said or done in the past and wonder, “Have I hurt someone who was grieving?” But, this is an important post. I get emails every week from people who want to help their grieving friends and family. Many of them are afraid of saying or doing something wrong.
It’s not that grieving people are a crazy lot who hold grudges the rest of their lives based on what you do or don’t do, but there are typically two kinds of people who unintentionally hurt grieving people - the thoughtless and the over-thinkers. Neither one of these groups are trying to hurt others, but if I can shine just a bit of light into the world of grief to help these two groups see their way, that is what I will try to do with this post.
1. Not being there – You may think grieving people don’t notice who writes, who comes to the funeral, who calls, who helps out, but they do. With stark clarity. You may feel completely inadequate to truly “be there”, but not being there at all is not the answer. If you can come to the funeral, come. If you can come to the house, come. Set aside your fears of inadequacy and just do something. I know it’s hard. I’ve been on both sides of this. It is never an easy thing, but it is a necessary thing.
2. Saying “it was for the best”, “she’s in a better place”, or any variation thereof – That hurts. If you think about for just a bit, you will hopefully hear how those words could hurt a grieving person. I am without my daughter, and even though I know God’s perfect will is perfect, I don’t want to be told right now that my child being anywhere else is better for her. Now is not the time.
And never, ever tell me that had she grown up, she might have turned away from the Lord and brought us all sorts of sadness. And never, ever tell me I’m young enough to have more children. You might believe these comments help you to make sense of what feels like a senseless loss, or help me feel like I can move on, but instead it ends up feeling utterly dishonoring to the memory of my child.
3. Trying to find someone to blame - No grieving person needs to be subjected to a rant by someone else. In my mind, blaming someone for whatever has happened, is a rant. Don’t give me a laundry list of everyone who is at fault for this tragedy, just let me grieve without having to filter your anger and blame too. You can read more about how people naturally look to blame others in a tragedy.
4. Putting grief in a box – We all grieve differently. I prefer to grieve alone. Some people prefer to grieve loudly. Some need to say what they need to say and move on…until the next time. And yes, some people seem to grieve forever. Whatever you do, don’t try to put someone else’s grief in a box and give them timelines and rules for grieving. Remember with them. Give them hope for a future. But don’t have expectations.
5. Not acknowledging their loss – Sometimes in our uncomfortableness, we avoid topics that we are afraid of. We brush over dates and names. We steer conversations away from anything that might remind our grieving friend or family member of their loss. We try to soften the pain by never acknowledging the pain. Stop doing that. Please, speak my child’s name. Please, remember the 4th of July as her birthday and February as the month she passed away (you don’t have to remember the exact date, I’m ok with that.) When you pretend like nothing happened, you hurt me far worse than if you acknowledge my daughter’s death by including her in my life.
6. Making this about you – We want to relate. Its natural. But, unless you have a VERY similar story or are asked to tell your story, avoid it. In those early days, grieving people can only handle their own grief, and they are barely doing that. Don’t heap your grief on them and don’t try to compare your grief to theirs.
In my post on helping a grieving friend, I mention how losing your dog, your grandma, or even your parent is not the same as losing a child. And the reverse is true. Let the grieving person grieve their own loss without needing to filter through yours.
Additionally, don’t tell a grieving person how you “almost” lost a child or “almost” lost a parent. There was a long period of time where I struggled with being around people who had almost lost children, but hadn’t. They made me angry. I know, that’s an ugly truth, but truth nonetheless. Almost and Did are nowhere near the same.
7. Never being normal around them again – This may sound odd considering I just said that not acknowledging their loss is hurtful too. However, you CAN be normal AND acknowledge their loss at the same time. Don’t assume I don’t want to go out for a meal or ice cream because I’m grieving. Don’t assume I don’t want to take a walk or take the kids to the park. In the early days, it is hard to do things without your loved one, but I needed life to move forward too. I needed to be treated normal, and not like a scary disease. I needed friends who would come over, not because I might need to talk, but because they just wanted to spend time with me whether I talked or not.
Grieving people need to be reminded that they are human. They need to be slowly coaxed back into the land of the living. They need to slowly return to joy. But, they desperately want to avoid leaving their loved one behind as they make that return. You can help be that balance for them by speaking memories and hope in their life one day at a time.
Grief is hard. And at some point, you are going to flub up. If you flub up because you were thoughtless – say so and apologize! If you flub up because you were over thinking – say so and apologize! I can almost guarantee you will be forgiven because if there is one thing grieving people appreciate more than anything, it is the acknowledgement that NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS EASY.
For our story and more help for those who grieve and the friends of those who grieve, visit my Grieving Mother page.